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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

August 18, 2010: Casserole for Kirsten

I recently cooked this meal to share with some colleagues and I'm naming it after Kirsten in particular because it's designed with her dietary needs in mind.  Kirsten is vegetarian, gluten-free and has an intolerance to fructans and galactans.  This means a whole host of veges - including legumes, onion and plants of the brassica genus - are off limits.  I took inspiration from the Fox Hotel vegetarian moussaka that so impressed me the previous weekend, gently cooking down some Kirsten-friendly vege chunks in tomato and garlic and slathering them with an ultra-cheesy mash, baked until a little crispy on top.  It takes quite some time but it's not too complicated and yields many, many serves; a truly hearty and homely meal for the depths of winter. 

Casserole for Kirsten

first layer
4 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
5 large tomatoes
1 green capcicum
1 large carrot
2 small zucchinis
10 button mushrooms
1 large eggplant
1 teaspoon basil
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon parsley
1 tablespoon tamari
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper

second layer
5 large potatoes
1 1/2 cups grated tasty cheese
1 tablespoon butter
1/3 cup milk
salt and pepper

Mince the garlic.  Place the oil and garlic in a large pot over medium-low heat. Finely chop the tomatoes and add them to the pot as you chop them, bashing them a little with a wooden spoon. Gradually chop and add the other vegetables as they're ready - the carrot in tiny cubes, capsicum in medium-sized chunks, zucchini in half-moons, mushrooms and eggplant in large chunks.  Cook the vegetables, stirring regularly, until they are very tender, at least 30 minutes.  Add the basil, oregano, parsley, tamari and balsamic vinegar.  Taste the mixture, seasoning and adjusting the flavour balance to your liking.

While the vegetables are cooking, peel and chop the potatoes into chunks. Place them in a saucepan and cover them with water. Bring the potatoes to the boil and cook them until they're very tender, about 15 minutes.  Mash the potatoes thoroughly, adding the cheese, butter and milk as you go - you want a thinner, more spreadable mash than you would usually use as a side dish.  Season the mash to taste.

Preheat the oven to 180°C.  In a large casserole dish, and pour the tomato-sauced vegatable mixture into it.  Gently spread over the mashed potatoes.  Bake the casserole until it's golden-brown and a little crisp on top, about 15 minutes.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

August 17, 2010: 'Lamb' korma pilaf

Cindy came home from Global Green with a bag of faux-lamb and a plan. She'd been excited about Camellia Panjabi's lamb pilaf for some time and a bag of frozen 'lamb' seemed like the perfect excuse to give it a try. We supplemented the faux meat with a handful of mushrooms and otherwise stuck reasonably close to the recipe.  It's a fair bit of work, although I managed to squeeze it in pre-netball on a Tuesday night (give yourself 90 minutes or so I guess). The results? Aromatic and amazingly full of flavour but texturally a bit challenging - the fake lamb turned out much tougher than we hoped, making the meal authentically chewy. Still, the combination of the rich clove and cinnamon flavours and the sharper chilli and ginger bite, made this a winning recipe. We're already plotting to have another shot at this with a less meaty filling - possibly just mushrooms, or maybe a combination of eggplant and mushies. We'll keep you posted. The main thing to note is that this is a wonderfully spicy treat and our first effort was almost the perfect winter meal - we just need to work on the texture.

Lamb korma pilaf

400g basmati rice
4 onions, chopped finely
Thumb-sized piece of ginger, minced
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 green chillies, finely chopped
5 cloves
5 cardamom pods
1 5cm cinnamon stick, broken into pieces
600g faux-lamb
400g mushrooms
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 teaspoon cumin powder
1-2 teaspoons chilli powder
1 teaspoon mace powder
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg powder
100ml yoghurt
3 tomatoes, chopped
2 teaspoons salt
2 bay leaves
a few strands of saffron
a splash of milk

Wash the rice and leave to soak in cold water for 30 minutes.

Heat a couple of tablespoons of oil in a big pot and fry the onions until they're soft and medium to dark brown. Add the ginger, garlic, chillies, cardamom, cloves and cinnamon and fry for a few minutes. Add the 'lamb' and mushrooms and stir-fry for a few minutes, until it's well coated in the onions and spices.

Add the spice powders (coriander, cumin, mace, chilli and nutmeg) and mix well. Add in 1/4 cup of water and stir, simmering for a couple of minutes.

Add the yoghurt, tomatoes and salt to the pot, stirring through. Cover and leave to cook for 15-20 minutes, adding water if everything dries up. When everything is cooked, it should be thick and spicy and not a runny, saucy gravy.

Drain the rice and put it in a pot with an equal volume of water and the bay leaves. Bring to the boil, add the turmeric, salt and a splash of oil and simmer uncovered, until the water has been soaked up and the rice is about 3/4 cooked.

Soak the saffron in the milk and set aside.

Take a large casserole dish and brush the bottom with oil. Put half the rice in the bottom and spread evenly. Add the spiced lamb on top and smooth it out, before adding the rest of the rice on top. Cover and cook at 160 degrees for 20 minutes (until the rice is completely cooked).

Remove from the oven and sprinkle the saffron/milk over the top before serving.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

August 15, 2010: The Fox Hotel

The Fox Hotel's been on our radar for a little while - it's a favourite of my coeliac pub clubbing mate, Emily's a fan, and for a few months they've been running a rather neat feminist salon.  They also have a well-designed and informative website with a full and current menu; just what bloggers and folks with dietary requirements love!

We finally made our way there on a Sunday evening with our friends Mike and Jo. There was a band on and the place was packed so it took a little while to secure a table, but having previewed the menu at home I trusted it would be worth the wait.  Roughly one third of the mains are vegetarian and have their own dedicated section; gluten-free, vegan and adaptable items are clearly marked throughout.  With chips and dips and mushroom and tofu gyozas on the snacks menu I was tempted to graze on smaller stuff, but I had to admit the mains were unusually varied and attractive too - as well as veg pub regulars like a vege stack, burger and lasagne, there was also a red curry pie with Thai salad, a burrito and marinated tofu on wild rice.

Michael was keen for that red curry pie but was later notified that they were all out of tofu - boo.  But our waiter was as friendly and helpful as he was apologetic, advising Michael his favourite dish across the entire menu is the roast mini pumpkin filled with pumpkin and blue cheese risotto and served with a pear, walnut and rocket salad ($17).  Restaurant risottos have us pretty jaded but this one was truly impressive in both flavour and presentation (see pic up top).  Win!

Having pored over the menu earlier I swiftly ordered the vegetarian moussaka with haloumi, chips and salad ($17).  I must admit that the side of chips (you know I love chips!) was one of the attractions but they're actually *gasp* a little unnecessary here.  The moussaka was topped with a layer of cheesy mashed potato, more than enough starchy winter comfort in itself.  I dare say I might not even have missed the haloumi chunks topping the moussaka if they hadn't been promised.  It was a pretty special mash, clearly.  Underneath that golden top was a tomato-sauced stew of tender vege chunks, mostly zucchini.  It's not the kind of meal that would usually excite me at all but the Fox kitchen totally pulled it off - I loved it.

Now suitably convinced of the Fox's culinary chops, we shared the dessert special ($8) amongst the four of us. Dessert gyoza could go very, very wrong - it's not difficult to imagine thick, sloppy, chewy or floury dumpling skins and a poorly matched filling - but here they were so very, very right.  The gyoza skins were substantial and crisp and coated in cinnamon sugar.  Stuffed with apples, they were like apple pie bites, perfect for dragging through the caramel sauce and gobbling down with an icecream chaser.

Though the Fox Hotel is clearly in high demand, we were satisfied with the quality of service and very impressed with the quality of food (well worth the gastro-pub price tag).  After just one visit, we're tempted to declare the Fox Hotel's offerings our favourite veg pub food anywhere... but we'll probably make a few more visits just to check.

The Fox Hotel has also been blogged by Perfectly Poached, Fitzroyalty, Hookturns and Foodscrazy.

Address: 351 Wellington St, Collingwood
Ph: 9416 4957
Fully licensed
Price: veg mains $16-17

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

August 15, 2010: What About Food II

Our first visit to new local cafe What About Food had been reasonably successful, so at a loose end a week later we decided to go back for a second look. Things seemed to be running a bit more smoothly after a week of practice and the addition of printed menus meant we didn't have to crane our necks to read the blackboard.

Cindy went for something a little more breakfasty this time around with poached cardamom apple and pear, topped with macadamia nut crumble and served with mascarpone ($11.50).

This breakfast crumble was top-notch. It was more fruity dessert than anything particularly breakfasty, but there weren't any complaints coming from Cindy.

I went for another egg-based option, a Middle Eastern chickpea bake served with feta, poached eggs and a herb salad on rye.

These were some well-poached eggs, served with a tremendously tasty chickpea mush. The chickpeas were a little on the dry side but their soft herby goodness went really well with the runny poached egg yolks. The salad was fresh and tart, providing something to cut through the rest of the meal.

What About Food seem to have a good thing going - the place was busy, the food was prompt and well prepared and the wait stuff seemed to have everything working effectively. If they keep this up, we'll be back again and again.

Edit 28/07/11: What About Food has changed hands and is now 330 Briks.

Read about our previous visit to What About Food here.

What About Food have a website up and running at

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

August 14, 2010: Thai Green Curry

Lunch aside, we had a fairly quiet Saturday planned, and the post-Rage re-run of Poh's Kitchen inspired me to have a shot at making a curry from scratch. I went for a simple Thai green curry paste, from the BBC website, with just a few convenient tweaks. The paste filled the house with wonderful spicy smells, and will form the base for quite a few future meals (it made a lot more than a single serve!). I was purposefully mild on the chilli in the mix, not wanting to make something that Cindy wouldn't enjoy, but I think this paste could use a bit more punch - maybe a couple of extra whole chillies.

My first use of the paste was in a straightforward Thai curry based on another BBC recipe. I basically swapped out the chicken for some tofu puffs and a range of crispy vegies, to end up with something vaguely healthy. I was a bit heavy-handed with the sugar which, combined with the lack of zing in the chilli paste, meant that this whole meal was a but too sweet and lacking in bite. Still, it was a vegie-rich and flavourful meal and with a few tweaks there's the potential for a winning curry.

Thai Curry Paste

4 green chillies, de-seeded and roughly chopped (I'd up this to 6 or 7 next time)
2 shallots, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon minced ginger
4 garlic cloves, crushed
small bunch of fresh coriander (including stalks and roots)
2 lemongrass stalks, roughly chopped
1 lime, grated zest and juice
8 kaffir lime leaves
2.5cm piece galangal, peeled and chopped
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 teaspoons light soy sauce
3 tablespoons olive oil

Combine all the above ingredients in a food processor and blend into a thick paste.

Green curry

1 tablespoon oil
2 tablespoons of the curry paste (maybe 3 would work better)
1 tablespoon of brown sugar
500g tofu puffs
1 small green capsicum, chopped
1 zucchini, chopped
1 cup cauliflower florets
1 small bunch bok choy
4 kaffir lime leaves, torn into pieces
400ml coconut milk
1-2 tablespoons soy sauce
Small handful of coriander, roughly chopped

Heat the oil in a wok, and fry the curry paste with the sugar for a minute or two.

Reduce the heat and stir in the tofu puffs, coating them in the curry paste.

Add the coconut milk and soy sauce and bring to a simmer for about 20 minutes or so. Throw in the vegies and stir them through.

Simmer for another 5 minutes or so, until things start to thicken a bit (if you simmer for too long the vegies start to go a bit limp). When you're ready to serve up, stir through the coriander and add more soy sauce to taste.

Monday, August 23, 2010

August 14, 2010: Tiba's Restaurant

We've long been aware of Tiba's Lebanese restaurant on Sydney Rd but our few previous attempts at visiting were all comically thwarted. It seems that every time we've thought to dine there it's been during Ramadan, and therefore impossible to secure a table after sunset. Funnier still, our recent successful visit also occurred during Ramadan, albeit at lunch time. There's far less competition for tables then.

Both of us being ravenously hungry and keen to sample across the menu, we didn't spend too much time perusing the menu before deciding upon the $13 vegetarian set menu. The wait seemed unfairly long, given how greedy we were and how sparsely filled the restaurant was, but when the food arrived there weren't any half measures. We were served a large platter of goods each, with a massive bag of flat breads on the side.

It was an absolute FEAST.  The tabouli and chickpea salads were lovely (and not too onion heavy) and the stuffed vine leaves, not usually a favourite of mine, even tickled my fancy.  The falafel were some of the best I've eaten anywhere, just heavenly dipped into the yoghurt and cucumber dip.  But the yoghurt barely got a look in once I tasted the smoky, silky babaganouge.  Incredible!  As I begin to fill up, my allegiance shifted to the delightful and slightly-less-rich hommos. The green salad and pickled turnip added some welcome freshness.  The only let-down was the cheese pie, bland and very dry.  (Vegan note - I would imagine that everything bar the cheese pie and yoghurt dip would be vegan-friendly, and I'd venture that this plate is still well worth $13 with those items omitted.)

Michael, in a heroic effort, nearly cleared his plate.  I didn't.  But I didn't regret my order one bit. It was a terrific way to sample Tiba's vegetarian wares and I'll order my favourite items with confidence next time.

Service was passable - attentive to begin with and then difficult to regain after we'd ordered - and it could be remarkably different when filled closer to capacity.  It'd have to be atrocious, though, before it discouraged me from more of these falafel and dips.


Address: 504 Sydney Road, Brunswick
Ph: 9380 8425
Price: vegetarian set menu $13

Friday, August 20, 2010

August 13, 2010: Yume

Cindy is a voracious reader of Melbourne food blogs, meaning she's always got some restaurant ideas tucked away when we're out and about at a loose end. Thus, when we wandered out of the Union Club Hotel last Friday night ready to hunt down some dinner, Cindy was the one who steered us away from some of our regular haunts and towards Yume, based on a recommendation from Jesska in May 2009.

It's an understated place, not as atmospheric as Wabi Sabi or Peko Peko, but pleasant and welcoming nonetheless. Cindy kicked things off with a grape soda ($3.50), which is strictly for people who want their beverages to taste like bubble gum.

The menu is rife with vegetarian dishes, particularly in the entree section. Which is where Cindy focussed her attention, ordering two of her Asian dining staples: vegetarian gyoza ($7.80) and vegetarian harumaki (spring rolls, $5.80).

The gyoza were crispy little pockets of goodness, with a tasty sauce and a pleasant filling. The spring rolls were similar - deliciously fried and served with a tasty sauce, but not anything especially innovative. The fresh greens that came with both fried entrees were an added and healthy bonus.

I went for a more comprehensive sampling of the menu, with a vegetarian bento box ($13.80). The box came with a couple of little California roll pieces, some vegie tempura, dengaku tofu (with a sweet miso sauce), spinach with a sesame dressing and a wakame soup (just in the edge of shot below).

Everything was satisfactory - the vegies in the sushi were fresh, the tempura was crispy-fried without being too oily and the tofu and sauce combo was light and tasty. But the surprise star of the box was the sesame-dressed spinach. The dressing was outstanding, lifting the potentially dull side salad to new heights. At less than $15, the components of the bento box added up to a hearty meal, leaving me unable to polish off the last of my rice. Nothing we had was quite as exciting as some of our previous Japanese faves but Yume offers a good range of vegie food at very decent prices. And you can walk in at 7:30 on a Friday night and score a table, which makes it the most accessible of the local Japanese places we've sampled.

Along with Jesska's original review, Yume has been enjoyed by Fitzroyalty and Between the City and the Sea, but otherwise seems to be off the food-blog radar.

Edit 23/9/11 - Brian from Fitzroyalty reports that Yume has closed down.

Edit 26/02/2012: The shopfront now hosts Madame K's Vegetarian!

Address: 367 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy
Ph: 9415 6099
Price: $5 - $15

Thursday, August 19, 2010

May 15, June 12, August 13, 2010: Buttermilk (& 'buttermilk') scones

The absence of a May calendar recipe on this blog may have escaped your attention.  I did make it; it's just taken me several more months to make vegan and gluten-free analogues of those buttermilk scones.  If anything, this scone recipe is a little more adaptable than your standard batch.  The fat comes from buttermilk rather than butter, and it's just stirred into the dry ingredients instead of all that pesky rubbing.  I didn't particularly notice the buttermilk in the final product but some maple syrup adds a distinctive sweet note.

I baked the first batch to team with a pot of savoury harira soup.  These did not top the traditional approach and technical skill employed by my friends D and Lissy, who are famed in some circles for their particularly fine scones, but it's an easy and quick recipe that still tastes very good fresh from the oven.

Almost a month later I prepared a vegan version and teamed them with the June calendar recipe for carrot-maple soup (this was Robyn's original intention).  The trick here is to replace the buttermilk with a mixture of soy milk and white vinegar.  It doesn't taste the same straight up but it sure does the job in a dough like this. I did find, though, that this scone dough was more wet than the original.  I had no hope of flouring and kneading it, and instead I just dropped scoops of it directly onto the baking tray.

Then more recently I went the full vegan/gluten-free monty, replacing the plain wheat flour with Orgran's gluten-free mix.  This dough was sloppier and lumpier still and I didn't hold much hope for its taste.  Actually these unconventional scones tasted very nearly as good as the other versions, with only the faintest chalkiness in their texture.  Slathered with your favourite topping, you'd barely notice the difference.

Buttermilk scones

2 cups plain flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 cup buttermilk

Preheat an oven to 180°C and line a baking tray with paper.

Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into a large bowl. In a separate, smaller bowl whisk together the buttermilk and maple syrup.

Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until they're just combined. Divide the dough into half a dozen blobs and place them on the baking tray. Bake the scones until they're cooked through, up to 20 minutes.

'Buttermilk' scones

1 cup soy milk
1 tablespoon white vinegar
2 cups plain flour (optionally a gluten-free mix)
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons maple syrup

Preheat an oven to 180°C and line a baking tray with paper.

In a small bowl stir together the soy milk and vinegar, allowing them to sit for 10 minutes.

Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into a large bowl.

Whisk the maple syrup into the soy milk mixture.

Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until they're just combined. Divide the dough into half a dozen blobs and place them on the baking tray. Bake the scones until they're cooked through, up to 20 minutes.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

August 13, 2010: Tapioca pearl pudding

Working from home and hungry for something novel, I recently ripped open the packet of tapioca pearls that we bought from Minh Phat.  I was attracted to their Froot Loopy colours, and they reminded me of the multi-coloured noodley dessert, bubur cha cha, that we made during our Malaysian cooking class.  Lucky for me, I also had a can of coconut milk and a can of mango slices on hand for pudding power.

From there, I used this recipe from as a loose guide, boiling and simmering the pearls and allowing them to cool.  Then I deviated a little, sweetening the coconut milk with the canned mangos' syrup and plonking in some of the mango flesh for good measure.

This was fun to make and pretty fun to eat, too, though I didn't love it with the same fervour as that bubur cha cha.  I wonder if it's because I used the over-sized pearls; the tapioca's all texture and (almost) no flavour and might be more enjoyable in smaller droplets amongst the sweet syrup.

Are there any tapioca pearl aficionados out there?  I'd love to know how you cook and eat them at home.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

August 12, 2010: Quorn

Cindy and I have heard plenty about Quorn over the years - it's a strange fungus-derived faux-meat product that is popular in the UK but has only recently hit the market here in Australia. Quorn is a bit controversial; it's non-vegan (egg-whites are an ingredient) and even contained battery eggs until the last few years. Now they're using free-range eggs and they've clearly jumped through whatever hoops are necessary to be imported into Australia. When it turned up in our local Woolies, we thought we'd give it a try.

Our choice was the mince option. And our recipe of choice?  Cindy's amazing faux-meat pies. It slots into the recipe basically as a direct replacement for the TVP. The pies turned out okay - the mince texture was even more convincingly faux-meaty, and Quorn seems to have a bit more flavour than TVP (although it's hard to tell when we smother it in pie gravy). The downside: the pies aren't vegan-friendly in this form. It seems strange that this company hasn't found a way to veganise their products - my completely uneducated guess would be that the market for faux-meat products would be substantially vegan. With that in mind, it'll be interesting to see whether Quorn catches on here.

Monday, August 16, 2010

August 10, 2010: Goat's cheese fritters (+ a surprisingly tasty alternative)

Our August calendar recipe for goat's cheese fritters perplexingly did not include ingredient quantities. Lucky for me, a brief google search revealed that Robyn had sourced the recipe from  With that, it was easy to draw up a shopping list and schedule them for dinner.  There was a lot more mixture than the recipe hinted at (I made far more than just '12 walnut-sized balls' from the dough) but otherwise it came together without too much fuss - mash together the ingredients until smooth, coat them (messily) in breadcrumbs, and give them some time in the fridge to firm up before frying.  The frying got a little ugly, what with the cheese wanting to melt'n'all, but most of my fritters remained intact.  They were quite a treat with a little tomato chutney and a lot of green salad.

For the first week or so of this recipe decorating our wall, it seemed clear that I could deglutenise it without too much effort (some gluten-free flour and rice crumbs would do it)... but veganising a recipe consisting primarily of cheese and egg?  This seemed like lunacy.  Then, on that tenth day of August, an idea struck me that seemed as brilliant as it did bloomin' obvious.


Tofu, with the right seasoning, might do a perfectly good job of standing in for all the cheese and egg.  I thought back to Isa's fantastic vegan omelettes and decided that my gluten-free flour substitute should be besan (chickpea flour).  A little 'chicken' stock powder and savoury yeast flakes and I thought I might just be able to concoct a decent little fritter.

We bought silken tofu for the task and this proved to be a little too watery; I ended up with a pancake-like batter that could not be crumbed.  But it fried up quite easily anyway, and I was thrilled to present Michael with hot golden fritters that looked astoundingly like fried cheese.

And the taste?  They had the velvety texture of ricotta and a subtle salty savouryness that fits the cheese niche, even if it doesn't taste exactly like cheese.  They were some fine fritters, and I was inordinately proud of them. 

Goat's cheese fritters
(based on a recipe from

250g ricotta
200g goat's cheese
1 1/2 tablespoons plain flour
2 teaspoons thyme leaves, chopped
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
sunflower oil, to shallow fry

In a bowl, use a fork to mash together the ricotta, goat's cheese, flour and thyme. Add in the egg and stir the mixture until it's all smooth. Gently roll the cheese mixture into walnut-sized balls and coat them in breadcrumbs, flattening the balls slightly with your hand. Refrigerate the cheese balls for at least 30 minutes to firm up.

Heat the oil in a fry pan and shallow-fry the cheese fritters until they are crisp and golden on both sides. Allow them to drain on absorbent paper before serving.

Cheesy tofu fritters

300g silken firm tofu
1/2 cup besan (chickpea flour)
2 tablespoons savoury yeast flakes
2 teaspoons 'chicken' stock powder
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons chopped thyme leaves
pinch of nutmeg
sunflower oil, for shallow frying

Thoroughly mix together all of the ingredients, except for the oil, in a bowl. Taste the batter and adjust the flavourings to your preference.

Heat the oil in a fry pan and drop generous tablespoons of the batter into the oil. Shallow-fry the fritters until they are crisp and golden on both sides. Allow them to drain on absorbent paper before serving.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

August 10. 2010: Gertrude Street Grub - Arcadia II

Arcadia has been a semi-regular lunch-time haunt of mine on the rare occasions I can't muster up the energy to walk up to Trippytaco. It's been a while since I blogged it - my first visit left me fairly disappointed, but I've eaten much better meals there since then.

So when work buddies set up a pre-work-day breakfast plan, I thought I should take the camera along and give Arcadia a second blog-showing. The breakfast menu has a few non-standard options: Mexican-themed egg dishes, delicious pancakes, spicy jalapeno loaf and so forth. There aren't too many options that are vegetarian by default, but they're happy to mix things around for you. I decided to sample the pan-fried mash potato cake with spinach, pesto and mayo, with the standard bacon swapped out for some delicious fried mushrooms ($18.50).

This was a pretty great feast - amazing pesto, perfectly poached eggs, a giant wodge of fried spud. What's not to like? The price is the main downside - $18.50 is an awful lot of money to spend on breakfast. For almost $20, I'm going to want a dusting of diamonds, or at least a truffle or two.

Arcadia is expensive across the board, but they do churn out some excellent meals, and the staff are helpful and friendly. Case in point: they were happy to throw together a vegan brekkie for a colleague: spicy beans, spinach, avo, mushrooms and toast. Not too shabby.

Arcadia's well worth a visit if you're loaded up with cash - great coffee, nice space, excellent staff and a good range of options both breakfast and lunch. I guess you're just going to have to wear the Gertrude Street prices.

Read about my last visit to Arcadia here. Or check out loads of other reviews: Craft City Melbourne, Breakies Worth Getting Up For, Beautiful Inspirations, Slicing Almonds and Zesting Lemons, A Breakie in Melbourne, Fitzroyalty and Fat Feminist Foodie.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Minh Phat munchies

We've been happily munching our way through some of the groceries that we bought at Minh Phat last month...

The potato crispy biscuits are goooood (if not good for you).  They're very much like the Potato In A Biskit snacks that I've grown up with, only a little smaller - crisp and mild in flavour, though still thoroughly enjoyable on their own.  I like crunching on a few mid-afternoon at work though I prefer not to team them with a cup of coffee, as suggested by the packaging.

I really was not sure what to expect of the cashew nut cookies - South East Asian sweets often take me by surprise (... and then get me utterly hooked with repeated exposure).  Aside from the pretty display cookies on the top layer, they're actually wafer sandwiches:

The wafers are tasteless and styrofoamy but the cashew-toffee filling more than compensates.  It's crunchy, but won't break your teeth; super-sweet but with a nice depth that comes from sesame as well as caramel.

The garlic crackers require a little more effort than just ripping open the packet, but they're sure worth it.  They're made of tapioca flour, garlic, salt and sugar and half a minute in hot oil transforms them into the vegan equivalent of prawn crackers!  I reckon these actually taste much better than their shrimpy counterparts - the garlic flavour is soft and savoury and unlikely to hound you for the rest of the day.  With only a fraction of the $1.80 bag needed per serve, they're mighty cheap too.

So our Minh Phat finds have all been great ones so far - I think I'd be most likely to buy the garlic crackers again in the future, though this bagful is likely to last us quite some time.

Monday, August 09, 2010

August 7, 2010: What About Food

There's a new cafe just opened on the corner of Elgin and Cardigan Streets, just a block or so from the University of Melbourne.  For a few months we've been observing the shopfront; initially a messy and musty room, then introducing itself with a neatly stencilled sign reading What About Food, now finally revealing a fit-out and menu in the style of the northside's best brunch spots.

The menu is well suited to our tastes - almost entirely vegetarian (though not particularly vegan-friendly).  It starts with a variety of mueslis and porridge, each matched with fruit, moves on to a breakfast fruit crumble with mascarpone before hitting Michael's kind of territory - home made baked beans, poached eggs, chickpea bake and an avocado bruschetta.  For the more lunch-minded there's also a pasta of the day, soup, frittata and pizza.

Michael gave the home made baked beans with feta and poached eggs on sourdough rye ($12.50).  It was a fine plateful and a very decent price.

I chose the goats cheese and caramelised onion tart from the heated display case (~$8).  This storage tactic meant that the tart's texture wasn't at its best - a little crusty and dry on top - but the flavour was spot on, rich with a little sharpness.

Of course all that inspecting of the display case meant I knew what was on offer for dessert, so I followed it up with this brownie (~$4).  As you can see, it was heavy duty stuff; super-dense and not at all cakey.

Service was friendly but was a bit confused - hopefully they'll hit their stride soon.  While the food isn't an instant rival to inner north greats such as Min Lokal, Minor Place and Fandango, the menu shows a lot of promise and the prices are reasonable.  I think What About Food has a fighting chance at attracting a loyal following of locals and uni-goers.  We'll certainly be back for breakfast very soon.

Edit 28/07/11: What About Food has changed hands and is now 330 Briks.

Address: 330 Cardigan St, Carlton
Phone: 9347 5256
Price: veg breakfasts and lunches $4.50-$15

Saturday, August 07, 2010

August 1, 2010: Chocolate berry custard

Some vegan friends of ours decided to revel in the season and gather for a Sunday roast.  Having just made vegan & gluten-free crème brûlée at home, I volunteered to bring chocolate 'custard' for dessert.  I tripled the recipe and divided it amongst ten assorted ramekins and coffee cups.  Then I took a tip from the original calendar recipe, which suggested I "jazz it up by spooning pear or berry puree into the base of the ramekin"... my slacker version being to pop a few mixed frozen berries in the bottom of each receptacle.

The bad news is that I developed a cold and missed out on the Sunday roast.  The good news is that the custards were everything I'd hoped - smooth, very chocolatey and perfectly complemented by the juicy-but-not-sodden berries.  Eating one at home was some small comfort while Michael shared the rest around at the home of the roast.  Even greater comfort was the leftover cassoulet from Lisa, which Michael brought home and I ate later that week while dragging myself around work.  It's meals like this that sustain me through winter.

Friday, August 06, 2010

July 30, 2010: Hainan-inspired chicken-inspired rice

During our day cooking with Kurma, we got talking to Diana. Unsurprisingly we shared an interest in vegetarian eating and cooking and afterwards she kindly emailed us a recipe she had for vegetarian Hainan chicken rice. Chicken rice was highly recommended by the Lonely Planet for our trip to Malaysia. We didn't end up finding a vego one on our travels, so we were excited to try this recipe out.

It required a few wacky (for us) ingredients - galangal and pandan leaf we managed to turn up at local Asian groceries, but ginger flowers were beyond my shopping skills, so we made do without. The galangal smells beautiful! Faintly of ginger, but with a very sweet almost lolly-ish element. It's a pretty simple recipe - some stock to cook rice in, a dipping sauce, some fried chicken and salady bits.

The stock smelled amazing as it was cooking, but the rice didn't take on quite as much flavour as we were hoping. Still, the sauce was mind-blowingly good: tangy, sweet and spicy - the perfect accompaniment to some pretty decent faux-chicken strips.

Vegie Hainan Chicken Rice

1 stick cinnamon
1 star anise
1 pandan leaf
1 cm piece ginger, sliced
2cm piece galangal, sliced
1 stick lemongrass
2 1/2 cups water

Boil everything together for half an hour and strain out the spices, reserving the stock. We probably ended up boiling things for a bit too long, meaning we ended up with only a cup or so of liquid, which wasn't quite as much as was needed to cook the rice.

1 1/2 cups basmati rice
2 teaspoons butter or Nuttlelex or peanut oil
2 teaspoons sesame oil
pinch of turmeric

In a saucepan in high heat, add the butter, sesame oil and turmeric. When the butter has melted, add the rice and stir-fry for a minute or two, distributing the fat evenly through the grains. Transfer the rice to a saucepan, covering it with the stock and, if you need it, extra water to make up 1 1/2 cups liquid. Cook the rice, covered, on low heat until the liquid is absorbed.

2 tablespoons sambal oelek
2 tablespoons sugar
4 tablespoons vinegar
thumb-sized piece of ginger, peeled and grated
1/2 teaspoon salt
grated rind of 1 lime
5 lime leaves, chopped finely (we used kaffir lime leaves because we had them, but I think you're supposed to use proper lime leaves)

Stir all the ingredients together in a bowl.

Final touches
1 small cucumber, sliced
1 tomato, sliced into wedges
250g of Fry's vegetarian chicken-style strips, fried in a splash of sesame oil

Serve up a big plate of rice, pop the chicken on top, the tomato and cucumber to the side and slather generously with the sauce.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

July 27, 2010: Gertrude Street Grub - Sonido

For years I've watched enviously while local bloggers with their fingers on the pulse rush out timely reviews of newly opened eateries, earning themselves kudos and links as far as the eye can see. So when I noticed a new cafe taking shape right near my work I started taking the camera to work with me every day so I could pounce and join this band of organised and well-connected food-hounds.

Sonido taunted me - opening a few weekends to test the waters and then remaining resolutely closed for weeks at a time (for a while I thought it was called 'Cerrado', which is actually Spanish for 'Closed'). Finally last week they threw their doors open for the workday trade, and I was quick to investigate.

Sonido is run by a friendly Colombian duo, who've spent a lot of time fitting out what was basically a blank office space into a cute and welcoming little cafe. They make delicious coffee, offering a discount for those who bring their own cups instead of using the disposable takeaway cups and they have a small range of tasty looking sweets (including a gluten-free apple-crumble muffin that received a rave review from a coeliac colleague).

The lunch menu is short and focuses on Colombian specialities: empanadas and arepas. At the time of my visit they were still ramping up their range, and the beany empanadas I had my heart set on were not yet available. There were still a few vego options, and after some consideration I settled on a breakfast theme, going with a huevos arepa ($9.50). The arepas are all corn-based and thus gluten-free (although unfortunately, K, there's not a lot of vegan-friendly action at this point), and for a couple of bucks extra come with a tasty little side salad.

This was a tasty lunch, although it really would make more sense as a breakfast. The little tortillas are corny and delicious and the topping was light, fluffy and well seasoned. I probably should have drummed up some hot sauce to give it a little kick, but there was nothing sitting on the table and my laziness trumped by desire for spice.

Sonido is a fantastic addition to the frighteningly gentrified Nicholson Street end of Gertrude Street - there's even talk that they'll get a liquor licence soon so that they can do dinners and drinks, which may occasionally tempt us away from Radio as our after-work drinks venue of choice. For now they're focussing on food and coffee, and they've got a very receptive audience of locals hoping that they succeed.

Address: 69 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy
Ph: ? (this is the price of being first to review but hopeless with details)
Price: $7 - $11

Sunday, August 01, 2010

July 24, 2010: Lake House

Michael recently and very generously treated me to a weekend away in Daylesford, including a meal at Lake House.  This two-hatted restaurant takes pride in its seasonal menus that use local ingredients, and they impressed me as much again when I saw that their 'menu of small vegetarian tastes' is printed and presented to every diner alongside the omnivore's version.  (There's one vegetarian entree and one main on the a la carte menu too.)

We loved the atmosphere here - not overly formal and really buzzing on a Saturday night, without any need to yell across the table to be heard.  The featured paintings by Allan Wolf-Tasker (husband of Lake House's executive chef Alla), crowded with lusty folk on a night out, set the tone well.  The service was a funny mix - professional and distant in one instance, then warm yet inexperienced from others.

We started with an amuse bouche of mushroom veloute.  It was silky smooth, with nothing distracting from the earthy flavour of mushrooms.

Course number two kicked up the earthy factor, with a salad of heirloom beets.  Combining roasted beetroot with walnuts, greens and creme fraiche is nothing new, but it's always a winner.

The crisp crumbed poached egg, peppers, olives and capers were a little more novel.  Y'all know I don't care much for eggs at breakfast but if anything was ever going to get me there it'd have to be a crispy-crumbed shell.  And it did!  I loved the crunch, the richness, and the counteracting acidity of the tomato-based condiment underneath.

The mushrooms, in consommé and brioche, were more my style from the start.  The brioche was all buttery toast with a soft, warm centre.  In contrast to the creamy veloute, the consommé tasted deeper and sweeter, with flecks of herb (chives?) on top brightening it up.

It was most refreshing to see some inspiration from Asia when they brought out the Japanese custard, miso roasted eggplant and vegetable tempura.  I loved the variety of textures and the sudden shots of saltiness and ginger in different mouthfuls.

For me, the spinach ricotta tortellini with pumpkin and walnuts that followed felt unnecessary.  Not only was I getting quite full, but my taste buds were just not ready for these stodgy European flavours so soon after the salty soy.  The cheesy pasta, pumpkin and lentils didn't work together quite so well as I would have expected.  I suspect that Michael might disagree, but after the Japanese custard I was ready to wind down with something fresh and fruity.

More richness was to come!  The cheese course featured two styles of blue cheese accompanied by pinot poached pears and black pepper crisps.  Blue cheese is a pungent and pretty divisive delicacy; it's probably impossible to plate it in a way that's universally pleasing.  I was very happy to alternate between the firm white-ish cheese and a sweet fresh fruit but the daubs of darker cheese (hidden at the bottom of the pictured mounds) absolutely floored me.  It was strong stuff.

Finally, dessert; quince soup and honey icecream.  Separately these items were both exquisite.  The quince hadn't been interfered with too much, all soft and syrupy and fragrant.  And the icecream must've been churned with the highest quality bee regurgitation in all of Hepburn shire.  But together they were smack-in-the-mouth-sweet, a bit much even for this dessert fiend.  (If I'd had my pick of the dessert menu, I would have loved to try the Lake House 'gaytime', an Amaretto parfait with almonds, dates, apricots and curry.)

While few dishes here score major innovation points (Japanese custard and the elusive gaytime dessert excepted), Lake House puts on a rather lovely vegetarian show.  Given their loyalty to the seasons, I'd be most interested in returning in summer for a different set of flavours and a daylight-savings view over Lake Daylesford.  But Victoria boasts some mighty fine regional dining, and we might tempted elsewhere before then.

You can also read about Lake House meals on blogs Crushed Guava, eat tori, Words and Flavours, Saucy Thyme, Food Rehab, Glampacker, tummy rumbles, doublecooked, The Gourmet Challenge, The New Epicurean and Winos and Foodies.

Address: King St, Daylesford VIC
Ph: (03) 5348 3329
Fully licensed
Price: vegetarian tasting menu $115 per person, $70 for matching wines